Monday, October 31, 2016

The Palace of Catherine the Great

For me, a highlight of our trip to Saint Petersburg 

.......Was touring Catherine’s Palace.  

I’ve read Massie’s biography of her amazing life, much of it based on her personal memoirs, and I’m thrilled clear down to my  little pink toenails to be standing here gazing at the ballroom she describes.

We are told about popular parlor games of the time.  Harmless flattery and flirtations were not only allowed, but encouraged.   A woman would paint a mole on her face, to the right of her lips if she was available for flirtatious games, or to the left if she was not available or not in the mood to be available.  (Guys, don’t you think a PMS signal like this would be helpful??)   Single people, of course, indulged; but husbands and wives were granted permission to participate with someone other than their spouse, also. 

And sometimes the woman would go to the powder room and change her mind (and her mole) mid-stream in the evening!  

All this to produce two results:  One, the end game for the guy was to see if he could get the woman to meet him “in the garden”, which was actually surrounded (purposely) by a high enough hedge to conceal a secret rendezvous, hopefully ending in a stolen kiss.  

Two, to produce outrageous gossip about whom was meeting whom, and right underneath her husband’s nose, enough fodder to feed the flame of local gossip until the next ball.  I'm fascinated by this ~ although it also might be indicative of a fairly boring lifestyle, for this to be the highlight of their lives.

The tour is fairly extensive, we get to wander much of the palace.  Well, that's not exactly accurate.  When you're with a tour group, it's more like being herded than wandering.  Still.  It's awesome.  Each room is filled with splendor and glamour and ornate fittings and furnishings. In this truly beautiful formal dining room, I was particularly taken with the gilded corners and trimming. Not sure if I'd be crazy about the dead bunny portrait (!), but the white peacock is nice.

The dining room is set as it was then, with one of the many (many many) sets of china.  I think it's lovely, and it calls to my dinner-party-loving heart to think of it being laden with food (albeit the dead bunny) and surrounded by friends.  

While these ceramic "heaters" are beautiful, they are more practical than ornamental.  They were much more efficient for heating each room than an open fireplace. As it's stoked with wood or coal from service hallways behind, it has the added advantage of the ceramic exterior heating up and then "radiating" the heat into the room.  Look at those inlaid wood floors!

Breathtakingly beautiful details are everywhere.
Even in the ceilings.

This "portrait style" room was a new rage back then.  It was considered a fashionable way to display great works of art in a concentrated format. Personally, I found it very stiff and dark, sort of foreboding.  Can't imagine a good party here, it must have been used for more formal events.  Or funerals.  

Here’s her writing desk, where, according to her memoirs, she spent hours in official correspondence, writing state policy, working on education initiatives, and struggling to find a way to release those bondaged in the serfdom of the day.  (Actually, we viewed several beautiful desks scattered throughout the Palace;) 

But here is where I can envision her ~~ sitting here at the very desk where she scribed those very memoirs; what a gorgeous piece of furniture!  You'll notice they set it far enough back that you can't touch ~~ no matter how much I wanted to run my fingers across that beautiful wood.Tickled clear to my toes, I’m telling you.

This is the embroidered wallpaper room.  
Yes.  I'm not kidding.

And the green "ivory room".  I know, right???  Maybe dinner in here on Tuesday / Thursday, the main dining room on Monday / Wednesday, and room service in my chambers on every other day that ends in a "y"  ??


Amazing detail where ever you look.  Even the doorknobs.

I don't have pictures of the "Amber Room", it's the one room that photography was not allowed.  An entire room studded with Amber, every inch of every wall, in all it's variant colors and qualities and radiance.  Makes me cherish my keepsake amber necklace (thank you Mr. C!) even more. Google it, if you want to take a peek, it's unbelievable.

I can't get over these inlaid wood floors.  Or the fact that they allow us to trod on them.  Booties over our shoes not withstanding, seriously?  Put down some runners or something.  I wanted to lay face down on the floor and just soak it up.  
Works of art, every floor, each unique from the others.  

And as we take a backward glance, you can see that the palace architect (purposely) designed a "mirror image" sort of matrix.  We are looking back through identical door frames that extend throughout the entire palace.  
That's a wow.    

And as we exit, now, to the grounds and gardens, she tells us this is where Catherine used to watch her soaps.  A little Russian humor there..........

Next, we stroll the lovely, well-groomed grounds.
Everything looks like a piece of art to me.  

All the more amazing when we are shown photos of the damage done in the fire of 1820.

Where pretty much everything, in certain chambers, was destroyed.

Luckily, though, her Grandson thought it should be restored. And what's a few million rubles among royalty, after all?

 And today, we are the benefactors of this beautiful 
work-of-architecture's full restoration.

We stroll the pathways and the gardens, soaking up the beauty of the flowers and enjoying the peacefulness of the walkways and the lake.  

These lilacs smelled like heaven ~~ and my Iowa childhood, where we had them in yard in every color...........The fragrance still takes me back there.......

And sure enough, here in the garden, is the secret hedge – Mr. C & I  tried to sneak away for a secret kiss, but…….it’s really hard to dodge the eagle eye of our most diligent Russian tour guide……

Plus all these guys..............

We say good-bye, now to Catherine's Palace, with the glint of the peaks of Catherine's Cathedral glimmering between the trees, and the haunting sounds of a lone violinist wafting on the breeze.

Our day is coming to a close.  A quick stop at a (cheap) souvenir shop (another downfall to being on a tour --  you  don’t really get to the nice shops so much, as everybody wants the cheap junk to take home); and now it’s time to head back to the ship.

Here’s where it gets really interesting, though......Mr. C has graciously, generously, selflessly booked us for the ballet tonight, at the famous Mariinsky Theatre.  We’ve been at several of these historic landmark theatres now, on our travels ~ an evening concert in Vienna, a sketch at the Opera House in Sydney;  even an afternoon children’s theatre performance (just so we could get inside!) the famous Estates Theatre ~  so it’s kind of become our thing. Tonight it’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and I’m practically shivering with anticipation.  But this is a story for another day....

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